One sometimes hears that the World Economic Forum is all talk and no action. I don’t buy it — talk matters. Social currency is a powerful driver of change, even at the highest reaches of business and government. And last week climate change was on center stage at the famous Davos summit. So as I moved through the WEF Annual Meeting, the question on my mind was simple: How many of the conversations here will lead to real-world outcomes?
President Barack Obama had helped point the spotlight with his second inaugural address two days earlier, but the real reason for renewed focus, after several years of near silence, is the increasingly destructive and incredibly costly wave of unprecedented weather events that have occurred around the globe. There were more than 30 official sessions on climate change, environmental resilience and food security this year at the Annual Meeting, and even more related side events.
At a dinner on climate change and extreme weather hosted by my organization the Environmental Defense Fund and The Weather Company, meteorologist Jim Cantore explained that the vanishing sea ice around the North Pole may be changing the whole jet stream. That could trigger a level of climate chaos that makes the disruptions we’ve seen so far look like child’s play.
Beneath all the talk was doubt about whether humanity could rise to the scale of this massive challenge. More than a few hands shot up in one session when the speaker asked if the time had come to deploy geoengineering – using technology on a massive scale in an attempt to reverse the problem by, for example, altering the chemistry of the ocean, or trying to block the sun’s rays from the atmosphere.
I didn’t raise my hand. I don’t see the logic of compounding the dangers of people playing god, with unknowable results. While these grand – and grandiose – ideas might appeal to a certain kind of techno-optimism, they also provide an easy distraction from the investments we know we need to make to protect against extreme weather that’s already here.